Note: This review is from the 2017 Fringe

The audience enter the dimly-lit, low-ceilinged space at ZOO venue to dissonant sounds playing quietly. At the centre of the thrust staging are two actors at either end of a long chrome-plated table. One faces straight ahead in intense focus. The other is seemingly unconscious, his head flopped downwards, his hands tied back. Not a word has been uttered and the audience is already on edge, a sense of claustrophobia and threat taking hold.

As the ‘hostage’ is released and soon spoken to by an invisible AI presence, the story unfolds and the audience pieces together the circumstances. We are in the midst of an Armageddon in some top-secret underground bunker. The characters: a journalist seeking answers and justice, and the man who authorised the dropping of the nuclear bombs. Or so we assume, at least. Echoes is a taughtly-written piece of duologue theatre exploring several weighty issues and themes like power, violence, politics, human nature and responsibility. As well as figuring out the backstory and setting, the audience is also confronted with two startling characters, particularly the unnamed politician who is conveyed as calculating, cold and sociopathic. This alone pulls us in, demanding we question and assess each of them as they question and assess one another.

At times, the language threatens to become a little opaque and the big ideas border on becoming overwhelmingly complex. There are also twists in the unfolding storyline that flit between the predictable and the bizarre. However, despite any possibly confusing dialogue, Echoes is held firmly together by two outstanding performances. Stefano Patti’s role is earthy, rebellious and vulnerable whereas Marco Quaglia plays his sinister leader with terrifying stares, maniacal quirks and a thoroughly intimidating demeanour throughout. It is this that draws our focus and creates the tension even more so than the sound design and physical environment.

This piece of dystopian theatre excellently captivates the audience through its powerful acting and direction. The premise is fascinating and the interview-style plot is intriguing, although occasionally ventures too far into the esoteric. Therefore, Echoes might be best seen with a comrade to deconstruct the meaning afterwards.